Thursday, October 1, 2015

Report Finds that Vegan-Avoidance Outreach Results in Vegan Avoidance

Little girl grimaces and turns away from a piece of broccoli held toward her

A colleague passed on some new research conducted by The Humane League (see here and here) (a non-vegan, pro-welfare organization dependent on grants and fundraising for survival) and has asked for my input. I will not go into the details of the methodological issues with the report, as the same issues surface time and time again and I have written about them in previous posts (see here and here) as well as my upcoming book to be released this month, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights. But in a nutshell, here's what's going on: a non-vegan organization that does not promote veganism or support veganism seeks evidence to support that its approach reduces the most harm and is thereby better than a vegan approach.

The organization's status as a non-vegan entity is important. As I told my friend, The Humane League (THL) investigating veganism with it's non-vegan approach is akin to an atheist organization investigating to what extent people will become religious after reading its promotional material. THL is not in the business of veganism, just as an atheist organization is not in the business of bringing folks to god.

The tendency for welfarist organizations to conduct their own research with staff members is also extremely problematic. These employees will understandably exhibit a strong conflict of interest. They will be expected to find data that supports the organization's grant-friendly, compromised approach. This just isn't good science. Seriously--imagine if the research found that a strong vegan message worked, do you think that this data would see the light of day, much less inform the organization's operations?

Welfarist organizations have invested decades of energy and billions of dollars into manipulating the social imagination into viewing veganism as unrealistic, weird, and undesirable. They even refer to veganism as a matter of "purity" in the language of the report--this loaded language demonstrates bias from the onset. Large charities have made reductionism the "common sense" approach for anyone who cares about animals.

As with many things that become "common sense," we forget that there are other possibilities. "It's better than nothing" logic obscures the fact that we aren't really dealing with compromise vs. nothing; there are options. We also lose sight of the powerful economic interests behind the enforcement of this ideology. It's no accident that alternatives are so difficult for activists to conceptualize. As I've been uncovering in my dissertation research, these organizations work very hard to keep the activist community and the public at large acquiescent.

Veganism is a radical, life-saving, capitalist-threatening political force. There is a reason why anti-vegan organizations like THL rise to power: elites that control the funding will certainly not fund organizations that threaten their livelihood. They are more likely to fund groups that are not threatening. In fact, they're even more likely to fund groups that are not threatening and help to delegitimatize the vegan grassroots collectives that do pose a threat. More bang for their buck.

To see a vegan world, it's not just a matter of supplying vegan pamphlets. The onus is really on the large charities to start promoting veganism as something that is admirable, desirable, and within reach. It's on these groups to start breaking down the systemic barriers to veganism. Unfortunately, as it stands, these groups are the systemic barriers to veganism. Sure, food accessibility is a problem, as is unfamiliarity with vegan food, or even social conformity. But anti-vegan groups posing as Nonhuman Animal "rights" organizations do the most damage in my opinion.

Here's the bottom line: just as we would not look to the beef and dairy industry for unadulterated, unbiased research on nutrition, we should not be looking to funding-focused large non-profits as an authority on effective activism. I think it's great that more organizations are actually taking some time to figure out if procedures are worth the investment, but it seems that science is simply being wielded as an ideological defense for corrupt tactics. These reports aren't intended to guide activists; they're intended to please funding agents.